Now or Never

I started a dating day camp for people with autism

Dating is awkward for most people... but dating with Asperger syndrome adds a whole new level of difficulty. That's why Evan Mead started a 'Date Camp' for people on the autism spectrum.

This segment originally aired on Now or Never on Feb. 17, 2017.

Dating is awkward for most people, but according to Evan Mead, dating with Asperger's adds a whole new level of difficulty. Mead was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was five, and recently started a "Date Camp for Asperger's" — dating day camps for people on the autism spectrum. He is also working on a documentary called Awkward Love about his experiences. 

Evan Mead and his friend Andrew Barton, one of the camp's participants, spoke to Now or Never's Trevor Dineen about what it's like to date with Asperger's. 

By Evan Mead, as told to Now or Never

Let me start by saying that if you've met one person with Asperger's or autism… it means you've met one. Everybody is different! But people on the spectrum tend to have more difficulty socializing and being appropriate in certain social settings. Others also may have difficulty carrying on conversations or making eye contact. These are all really important factors in dating. So when it comes to asking someone out, someone like me can get very anxious. Or sometimes I may ask someone out and not necessarily say the right thing.

In my early twenties I worked with dating coaches and it went really well. The coaches weren't specifically trained to work with people on the spectrum, but I found their methods helpful. I thought this was something other people with autism and Asperger's could benefit from. So, I called up some of my dating coach friends and started the date camp. 

The first session was five hours long. A mix of men and women came… and it started out pretty tense. People were wondering, "Am I going to learn how to fall in love? Am I supposed to fall in love with the person sitting across from me?".

I have three coaches who work with the participants. One talks about envisioning and manifesting your ideal partner. Another deals with conversational skills and how to dress. I had a sex expert there and he talked about intimacy. Looking back, we actually aimed kind of high... The workshops were intended for dating and they started off with that focus, but as the conversation naturally progressed over five hours we discovered a lot of the participants see a wall when it comes to making friends — let alone asking someone out! So we decided to give them a space to just be friendly.

(Evan Mead )
One of the coaches runs a Toronto speed dating service, so she used that method to get people just talking. She split everybody into pairs and the idea was to choose anything that's interesting to you and just talk about that for two minutes, then switch it up when the timer goes off. What happened next was amazing. People started opening up to us. People shared some really vulnerable stuff. A lot of them have been bullied and suffer from severe social anxiety. One participant in particular was so anxious that she didn't want anyone talking to her at the event. But by the end of it we went from a really tense day to a day that felt awesome! People came away feeling, "Oh I shared so much and I'm really glad this happened!" Just creating a safe, encouraging, welcoming environment to practice really helped.

One piece of dating advice I'd like to offer to anyone who is on the autism spectrum and who is thinking about going on a date is if you're if you're scared to ask out that special someone, do it anyway. Because the fear, I've come to realize, is never going to go away. I wish I could say it will go away but it won't. So try not to put too much pressure on yourself because you've got to know what's right for you, but at the same time if you want to do it — do it even though it's scary. Just go for it. Take a chance. The worst that can happen is they're not the right person. If they're not, move on.

Trevor asked Andrew and Evan to imagine their dating profiles. This is what they said:

Andrew Barton

My dating profile would say, "Single 31-year-old who's looking to settle down. No kids as of now. Easy going type of guy."

Likes: Skiing, sailing, the Super Bowl.

Looking for: "Just be nice, pretty, cute. Nice. Everything is good!"

Evan Mead

Evan Mead
My dating profile would say something like, "25. Looking for something serious. If you're really creative or just have a positive outlook on life we'll get along just fine!"

Likes: Toronto and movies (especially Star Wars).

Looking for: Open-minded, blue-eyed brunette who is passionate about what she does.